Saturday, March 16, 2019

“Madame, I came to the theater thinking I would see Arabs, but instead I could see myself.”

Bizarrely, this week Muslims have had to defend themselves even more after 49 innocents were gunned down in a horrific crime of right-wing terrorism in New Zealand. Here is a fascinating interview with Algerian film director Rayhana...

Anna Pamuła: I’ve read that you have two mothers.
Rayhana: I don’t know which one is my real mother. My father belonged to the mujahideen fighting for Algerian independence from 1954-62. After the war he lost an eye and met a Dutch physician named Connie in the hospital. They became close and likely got drunk one time and landed in bed together. She became pregnant, but he was already married to an Algerian woman.
Each woman told me that I was her daughter and both told me in detail about the process of my birth.
So I have two mothers, and I love them both enormously. I wouldn’t want to know which one lied to me, which is why I’ve decided not to have a DNA test, and I tell myself that they did this out of love.
AP: How far back does your memory reach?
I spent my first years with my Algerian mama, but for school I moved in with Connie. My Algerian family was illiterate, but they cared about my education, so they sent me to be raised by the doctor.
Both mothers were very affectionate toward me, though they also beat me. My father, too. I remember how he once caught me with my hair down after leaving school. I didn’t have to wear a veil, but my hair always had to be tied up. He had no mercy. He dragged me home and cut it short.
But my worst memory is of how my mama punished me by putting hot pepper paste into my vagina. I was eleven years old. She told me to do some shopping and it was a hot day, so I went outside in shorts. When I got home and she saw my bare legs, she started to scream. She grabbed me and told me to sit on a chair and then pried my thighs apart and put harissa in there. I don’t even remember how much it hurt.
AP: Your film, “I Still Hide to Smoke” (2016), is based on a play that you wrote and directed. There is a scene in the play in which the heroine retells the same story.
When I was young, it was normal -- mothers grabbed their daughters between their legs or put harissa in there. I wanted to put it into the film, but the French producer didn’t agree, so we left it out. It was very important to us that we be able to show the film in Arab countries.
AP: How else is the film different from the play?
Unfortunately, I had to censor myself. I was afraid that someone would accuse me of stigmatizing Muslims. I added a line to the screenplay in which one of the heroines says to a radical Muslim woman, “Your Islam is not our Islam.” That wasn’t in the play.
I didn’t want anyone to accuse me of “Islamophobia.” Islam disturbs me as much as any other religion, and it is not the film’s main topic.
AP: Your film tells the story of about a dozen women who meet at a Turkish bath. [In your work, you've] covered almost every important topic in a woman’s life: marriage, pregnancy, confinement after childbirth, death, masturbation, her period, orgasm, virginity, love, sex, etc. Why do these things seem important to you?
Once I showed my work at a theater on the Champs Elysées. A discussion followed. I stood alone on the stage, when suddenly I heard tapping from off to the side: tap, tap, tap.
I could see a woman of around eighty years old, an elegantly dressed white French woman. She definitely had her hair done before the play, rouged her cheeks, and put on green eye shadow -- a beautiful older woman in a perfectly cut suit. She walked with a cane.
She came up to me and said, looking me straight in the eye, “Madame, I came to the theater thinking I would see Arabs, but instead I could see myself.”
And she walked away, tapping her cane on the wooden stage. Silence fell, and then all at once, everyone stood up in an avalanche of applause. The director of the theater signed a contract with me for twenty more performances.
AP: What did the French woman see?
I am sure she had experienced violence. Maybe her husband beat her. I regret that I didn’t manage to speak with her.
Lately during discussions following film screenings, someone always says, “It’s really bad for women in Algeria.” This bothers me, because, in my opinion, injustice toward women is happening all over the world, only in different degrees. Every two and a half days, a French woman is killed by her husband.  But there also exist leftist French feminists who assert, for example, that female circumcision is just cultural difference, so they cannot be opposed to it. This also irritates me.
AP: Why didn’t you use Algerian actresses?
At the beginning I sent the screenplay to actresses whom I trusted. But even for them, to show a scene at a public bath was too much. The bath is a sacred place where women are naked. I was also counting on the film being shown at festivals in Algeria, and that would have been impossible. The director of one of them even told me that the film was vulgar and filthy.
AP: Do you remember visiting the baths in your youth?
I rarely went, because I lived with my Dutch mama, who did not have that custom. As a result, it was an exotic place for me. But I went there often enough to see that Arab women were not embarrassed about anything at the baths.
AP: Women are naked, touch each other, but I would not call this a sensual film. You show the whole body as it is.
Some critics have even accused me of making a film that lacks sensuality, but I don’t want to dazzle people with the female body. They see it that way, because they are looking from a European perspective.
This is precisely a problem of Orientalism -- a group of naked women in a bath means automatically that something is going to happen, but these women are going there simply to bathe.
AP: Why did you choose a female cinematographer?
I wanted the actresses to feel free. That aside, I was counting on having a woman’s gaze. A male cameraman would definitely do more closeups of the body, the skin. He would show a woman washing another woman in a sensual fashion, but I wanted to have Fatima scrubbing her friend’s back so hard that her skin would be all red. I didn’t want the camera to be ogling the women. I specifically chose women who are not models, who do not have perfect bodies. They have cellulite and sagging breasts. Even the most beautiful among them, Hiam Abbas, shows stretch marks on her belly from several births.
AP: Do you like being a woman?
I love men and I adore my own womanhood! Now I don’t wear makeup anymore. Before, I was a real coquette. I had long curly hair and wore dresses.
AP: “I am a woman who loves men.” That’s what you said in one of your interviews.
We can’t love each other, truly love each other, if we don’t have equality. I fight for women’s rights, because without them we will not be able to change our mentality. After all, if things are so good for men, why would they arrange things differently on their own? The law must be forced upon them.
Once an Algerian woman could not leave the country without her husband’s permission; now this law no longer applies. A year ago, a law forbidding domestic violence came into effect, all thanks to the work of female political activists. A man can be punished now. I am certain that our struggle is right, though it takes a great deal of time. More and more women work, and more women study at universities than men. On the other hand, Islamists have grown in power, so more and more women are also moving backward, radicalizing.
Rayhana (b. 1964) – Algerian actor, director, and playwright. She has lived in France since 2001. Her play, “At My Age, I Still Hide to Smoke,” in which she made her debut as an actress and director, achieved great success in French theaters. In 2017, she made a film under the same title.
The above excerpts are from Anna Pamuła’s interview with Rayhana, originally appearing in the Polish weekly Wysokie Obcasy in July 2017.

Translated by David A. Goldfarb
My source was: News Mavens.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

"Brexit blues" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Protesters in London, January 2019. EFE] 
My wife and I are just a few weeks away from being what amounts to illegals in a country (in fact, an entire continent) where we have lived for the last 4,600 days.

Both of us having a British parent has meant that we’ve been able to have most of the rights and responsibilities of a European citizen and our (Australian only) teenage son has had no legal problem either.
With Brexit this is all soon to change for us and an estimated 308,000 Brits in Spain.
Another million or so across the rest of the European Union are set to face the same uncertain status unless the British government finally delivers on its promise to fully safeguard its passport holders living in the EU. 
Quite simply, there is growing alarm, anger and feelings of abandonment across this very disparate group of individuals.
But how and why did we get to this point in the first place?
It’s worth remembering that the cause of Brexit was an advisory referendum. 
It was a public vote called by former Conservative prime minister David Cameron more than two years ago. 
He made the referendum happen purely (in his mind) to prevent the growing popularity of UKIP (right-wing anti-Europeans) and to shore up his own leadership in a party with a range of strong opinions on Britain being an EU member.
Cameron did not design this referendum because of public pressure in the United Kingdom. 
In fact, only 37% of the voting population ended up choosing to cast their vote in favour of leaving, though this was almost 52% of the total vote.
As senior EU officials have in fact recently confirmed, Cameron believed that his then coalition partner, the Liberal-Democrats, wouldn’t agree to an in/out Brexit referendum. 
When Cameron won an election and then found himself governing without the Lib-Dems, his hand was forced by powerful elements in his party and the business sector, despite Cameron being publicly pro-Europe. Also mistakenly, he expected a victory anyway.
So, the awful mess we are in now was started by the Conservatives and is being continued to this day by the Conservatives. I am not going to talk about those who promoted Brexit with, what Donald Tusk rightly called “not even a sketch of a plan to carry it through safely.” 
I am not going to talk about the countless thousands of working people who have already lost jobs to Brexit-era closures and relocations, or about a likely 750,000 more unemployed to come.
I am also not going to talk about the loss to UK schools, hospitals and service industries of EU nationals, forced out by a government pursuing a “hostile environment” policy toward immigrants. 
I could also mention those Europeans who felt it necessary to leave Britain because of the greatly increased bigotry and discrimination against many of them that Brexit has unleashed.
Instead, I am going to identify the single biggest reason why the pro-Leave forces won the referendum. Apart from blatant lies, scaremongering and running a campaign that spent illegally, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and others took clear advantage of their own government’s austerity policies.
Massive social welfare cuts, hospital privatisation, school budgets slashed, starving local councils of funding and large scale vital infrastructure being left in ruins. 
All this together created sections of the country who were itching to make a protest vote and punish the government, Europe, immigrants: these were who Leave leaders identified as being at fault for what was in reality the everyday results of the harshest forms of austerity. 
This was why Britain needed to “Take Back Control”. This finger-pointing was enough. That simple slogan.
And now today, look at the result.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, March 2019.]

Friday, March 1, 2019

"Why your next read should be from Catalonia"

Apart from someone like the excellent Matthew Tree, "it’s slim pickings for English-language readers looking for literary insight into this fascinating, independent-minded culture, with translations of Catalan masterpieces woefully sparse.

And for every regularly translated Montserrat Roig, Quim Monzó or Jaume Cabré — the latter of whom Catalan scholar Montserrat Lunati considers to be “possibly the best novelist in Catalan right now” — you’ve got a Max Besora, Albert Pijuan or Maria Guasch, who’ve been recognized for producing some of the best books of 2017, but have yet to see their works published in English.
Still, English-language publications are slowly taking note. Based on recommendations from Catalan writer, literary critic and current coordinator of the “Barcelona, City of Literature” project Marina Espasa, and others, here are some texts that you can find in English, whether in print or online.


(Translated by Alicia Maria Meier). Rojals’ impressive 2011 debut, Primavera, estiu, etcètera, is an “exceptionally good” novel, Espasa says, that effectively taps into the everyday parlance of the people, all while exploring the plights of a generation. The author strikes a balance between selling well without selling out, Espasa adds, and that’s also evident in her tightly crafted “passionate and on-the-money” essays, such as those compiled in We Could Have Studied Less. Life in contemporary Catalonia has rarely been articulated so well.
Translated excerpts here.


(Translated by María Cristina Hall). As a writer’s rights activist, one-time candidate for a seat in Catalan Parliament and a key figure of queer visibility on the Catalan literary scene, Olid is so much more than a writer. “For No One,” taken from her short story collection La mala reputació, is one of her few pieces available in English, says Catalan-to-English translator Bethan Cunningham. And like Olid herself, it’s complex and engrossing. A queer, tragic love story of sorts, it’s a beautifully executed tale that will leave you emotionally broken.
Translated short story here.


(Translated by Scott Shanahan). Bagunyà may have published three books and generated much critical acclaim and discussion, but he remains surprisingly underrated beyond the Catalan literary scene. In fact, his short story “You’ve Likely Never Been to a Party This Big” (translated in 2017), which relates the disorienting, so often unarticulated horrors of attending a sprawling social gathering, is the first time an English translation of his work has been published online.
Translated short story here.


(Translated by Peter Bush). One of the most widely acclaimed (and widely translated) books to come from Catalonia in the past decade is The Last Patriarch, by Moroccan-Catalan- Spanish [?] author el Hachmi. Touching on some of the more overtly drawn autobiographical themes addressed in her 2004 debut, Jo també sóc catalana (I’m Catalan Too), this is a two-parter of violence, identity and, ultimately, empowerment.


As opposed to the previous writers, Cantero often skips the whole translation debacle, and writes in English. His second English-language novel, New York Times best-seller Meddling Kids — inspired by kids’ TV favorite Scooby-Doo — blends a unique, meta narrative with more pop culture references than Stranger Things (however, it does a far better job at subverting them)."
For further reading see source at Ozy here.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

"Slavery 2.0" -- Exploitation in the tech industry to be uncovered in Barcelona this week

 "The Mobile Social Congress (not to be confused with the anti-Mobile World Congress or the socialist side of congress) is coming to Barcelona next week hell bent on promoting citizen awareness

This is to be the fourth ever Mobile Social Congress and is to focus on the working conditions and environmental impact of the electronics industry.

“We want to denounce labour exploitation and the exploitation of natural resources stemming from this predatory model of production and technological consumption,” said Laia Fargas, member of the NGO Setem Catalonia which is organizing the event. 
The title of the event Esclavatge 2.0. De la mina a l’abocador (Slavery 2.0: from the mine to the dump) sends a clear message about the objectives of the event, which include: adopting a global perspective on the production and consumption chain through round table talks, workshops and the projection of a documentary at the Pati Manning in Barcelona on March 26 and 27 in the afternoons.
These events will explore how working conditions reminiscent of slave labour appear in factories in European countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic as well as in China. There will also be presentations on repairing and recycling electronic products and data protection."

Friday, February 22, 2019

V-Day Women's March performances in Barcelona, Feb 22-24

As a part of worldwide activities for V-Day, starting tonight, there will be three performances of selected pieces from A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer - WRITINGS TO STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS by Eve Ensler. 

In Barcelona these are to be presented in Spanish, Catalan and English and the money collected from tickets sales will go to two associations that support women who have been victims of domestic violence: Tamaia Viure Sense Violència and Mujeres Palante.  

Venue: Teatre del Centre Cultural Francesca Bonnemaison. Carrer de Sant Pere Més Baix, 7, 08003 Barcelona.

Dates: Feb 22 at 20:00h, Feb 23 at 20:00h and Feb 24 at 12:00h

More info here.

Friday, February 15, 2019

"Bread" -- My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine

I have never met a baker that I didn't like. Some have even become friends.

That's not surprising considering what they do: getting up early every morning in the sackcloth black of heavy dark and plunging their hands again and again into pliable dough. 

Have you ever actually looked at a baker's forearms? Muscle on muscle on sinew on bone. Sadly though, years spent working with flour 'dust' regularly causes bakers asthma and even lung cancer.

What they proudly produce in the form of bread, the Egyptians call 'aish,' meaning life. There it was also once a form of payment, echoing the modern English slang as bread meaning money.

The Egyptian word reminds me of that old English expression 'the staff of life' with its idea that bread keeps us upright, like a walking stick. (Like plenty of people, I used to think the phrase was the 'stuff´of life. That it is too, of course.)

But I can only think for a few minutes about different languages words for bread (pa, pan, brot, bara, chleb, ekmek, mkate, taro...) before my mind instinctively turns to its joys that first fill the nostrils before reaching the mouth. (Is it unsurprising that some real estate agents suggest that the scent of freshly baked bread inside a house will increase the chance of selling it?)

Ultimately, I am a simple man. I don’t need fancy food to be happy. I require nothing on good fresh bread. Just hand me a slice of quality seeded loaf, a steaming round of pita, a soft and pappy bap, a torn-off chunk of wholemeal rye, a firm circle of bagel, a still-warm bit of authentic sourdough, some yielding Turkish sesame bread, a shiny little ball of French ‘pain au lait,’ a flat disc of chewy garlic naan, a newly-made corn tortilla, a crunchy sliver of ‘pa de vidre’, a crust of wood-fired ‘redondo’ or the nostalgic raisin bread of my childhood. Give me any of these creations and I will thank you from deep within.

Some of my relationship with bread is not quite so straightforward though. Before living here in Europe, we spent two years in Milton Keynes, a new British city of almost a quarter of a million people. 

But our existence there was deprived. At that time there was not one single specialist bakery inside the limits of the urban area.

If you wanted real bread made by an independent baker, you had to drive just outside the city to one of the small, older towns where you could ask a living, breathing person for the good stuff, rather than pick up a product in a plastic bag down a supermarket aisle.

This is a great contrast to the little town in the Penedes where we have lived for a long time now. Less than two minutes’ walk from our house, there's a tiny bakery and if I am lucky and it is not yet sold out, they will have their excellent ‘pa de coca’ or Vienna rolls.

The great challenge I face is limiting my eating of bread to once a day. This is something I very reluctantly try to do to keep weight off but I do often fail. 

Years ago I even bought a bread-maker machine but after a couple of attempts which produced edible bread, I gave up and went back to the stuff that the professionals simply do much better.

[This piece was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, February 2019.]

Saturday, February 9, 2019

What's needed to combat ring-wing lies in the media? Paul Mason tells us...

I generally don't listen to podcasts but I did with this one because it is compelling. 

Broadcaster and journalist Paul Mason, talking to Joana Ramiro tells us exactly (at 35.00) what's needed for the Left to have a fighting chance against bullshit news.

From source at  Politics Theory Other

Sunday, February 3, 2019

"Illegal workers in Andalusia: unwanted yet indispensable"

An undocumented migrant poses in ‘Almericien’ shantytown in El Ejido, Almeria province, on 14 January 2019. (Jorge Guerrero / AFP)

"In southern Spain, the far-right party Vox has drawn farmers’ votes with a pledge to deport illegal workers.

‘But I don’t know what they would do without us,’ an African man remarked as he left a greenhouse in El Ejido.
In this part of the sprawling region of Andalusia dubbed the ‘sea of plastic’, shimmering greenhouses lie side by side for miles on end.
This is where Vox got its best results in recent local elections that have led to it sitting in a regional parliament for the first time in modern Spanish history.
One of the mainstays of the far-right party’s programme is a call for illegal immigrants to be denounced and deported.

Riding his bicycle along roads lined with greenhouses, Issa Guebre, 24, says he is paid 36 euros per day to grow melons.But in this area of southeastern Spain, dubbed ‘Europe’s vegetable garden’, foreign workers are an integral part of the ultra-intensive farming that the regional economy depends on.
He arrived last year from Burkina Faso after climbing the tall fence that separates the Spanish overseas territory of Melilla from Morocco.
Guebre says his boss ‘has never asked’ him for any identity documents and that he has never seen a work inspector.
50 degrees
Asked about Vox’s call to deport all illegal workers, he says: ‘I don’t know how they would cope here without us Africans.’
‘In the summer it’s so hot in the greenhouses at 50 degrees (120 degrees F) that even the owner doesn’t come in.’
A Senegalese man who lives in Andalusia, Serigne Mamadou Keinde Diassaka, recently drew attention when he published on Facebook a video seen more than 600,000 times.
Responding to Vox at six in the morning in a vineyard in Albacete, he said: ‘Here’s what we immigrants do: work.’
In El Ejido, population 89,000, Vox got 29.51% of the votes, ahead of the conservative People’s Party (PP) that has governed the town for 28 years.
Vox could even win municipal elections in May, polls show."

Monday, January 28, 2019

"The new nomads" -- Spain's young people

   "Spanish society has got an outstanding debt with its young people, who can’t construct a personal and professional life..., who don’t have decent jobs and salaries, don’t have adequate housing and can’t start a family.

The last decade has been witness to how the concept of “mileurista” [somebody earning 1,000 € a month] has passed from being derogatory to being an aspiration.

A recent study by [the trade union organization] Comisiones Obreras with the title “#GeneraciónMóvil” [mobile generation], shows the following: unstable and unpredictable personal and career paths, always conditioned by low salaries, unbearable rates of temporality and a rotation that turns the young into nomads in the labor market: from one sector to another, from salaried to self-employed, from victims of undesired partiality to false interns, with imposed stopovers in unemployment or abroad, without safe horizons nor the least capacity to plan life projects in the medium or long term, without security...
In 2017, 66 of every 100 young people had a temporary and/or part time contract; and still worse, 20 of every 100 salaried young suffered from double precariousness (temporary and part-time contract). Only 34 of every 100 had a fixed full-time contract...
Lastly, emancipation: 81% of the young between 20 and 24 years, 53% of those between 25 and 29, and 24% of those between 30 and 34 years still live with their parents. … leading to a lower birth rate, as they have their first child later or can’t afford to have children at all.
[…] many young people are deprived of the opportunities they should have had: the right to live their own life independently has been snatched away from them, to take their own choices, forcing them to accept, in the best of cases, any job, to work at any price, to study what the job market dictates to them and not that for which they had a vocation, or to return again and again to their family’s home, hiding their frustration."
SOURCE: Joaquín Estefanía's article: “Ideas,” El País, Dec. 30, 2018, p. 8 [printed edition] (Originally found as excerpts here at LITERARY RAMBLES blog.)

Friday, January 25, 2019

"The ruling class that drove Brexit"

[Arron Banks and Nigel Farage. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA]

"The media loves to blame far right movements and moments on the working class. Our Brexit research tells a very different story...

After Trump’s election, millions of words were typed about how ‘blue collar’ areas had turned out to vote Republican. Yet Clinton led by 11% among voters who earn less than $50,000. Trump secured his victory by winning among those who earn $50-200,000
Much the same can be said for the far right in Italy, whose core support is in the wealthier – though now de-industrialising – north, rather than in the more impoverished south; or about Brazil, where 97% of the richest areas voted for the fascist Bolsonaro, whilst 98% of the poorest neighbourhoods voted for the Workers’ Party candidate, Haddad.
We see a similar distortion in debate about Brexit. 
After the vote, journalists went on endless tours of deprived areas to report on how working-class people voted Leave (which many did). 
However, they somehow forgot to mention that wealthy counties like Wiltshire backed Brexit, while some of the poorest areas of the UK – the western parts of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Liverpool and Leicester – voted Remain. 
Academics who studied the class breakdown of the Brexit vote found ‘the Leave vote to be associated with middle class identification and the more neutral “no class” identification. But we find no evidence of a link with working class identification.’
This is nothing new. Ruling classes have always sought to blame bigotry on the working classes. Too often in recent times, the liberal media have been willing to champion this myth, rather than confronting the prejudice in its own ranks.
The way we talk about social media is central to narratives that blame the oppressed for their own oppression. 
Online bigotry, abuse and trolling are often framed as problems of the unwashed masses, who need to be regulated by ‘benign’ institutions such as global data corporations or the police. 
In reality, whilst racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, anti-immigrant hysteria and other forms of bigotry feature up and down the social spectrum, their recent mobilization is part of a different story. It has been led and co-ordinated by elite networks, seeking to reshape the world at the dusk of neoliberalism. 
And they are often in direct collaboration with these supposedly respectable institutions, from Facebook to the FBI.
To put it another way: the decade since the financial crisis has accelerated the emergence of a new global oligarch class. With growing wealth has come growing power and a growing ability to shape political debate through the dominant communications technology of the era: TV and the internet. 
As has long happened with right-wing movements, they have done so in close collaboration with military and security networks. Because the era is neoliberalism, those networks are largely privatised, made up of mercenary firms with names like Palantir, Arcanum, SCL, AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica.

Brexit, Arron Banks and the missing millions

Take, for example, the Brexit referendum in the UK. The Leave movement operated a bit like a solar system, whose two largest planets were surrounded by a collection of moons. First, there was Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign, fronted by Conservative politicians Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and orbited by numerous other campaigns and front groups. 
Second was Leave.EU, associated with the further-right UK Independence Party, fronted by iconic blazered bigot Nigel Farage and primarily funded by an insurance man called Arron Banks. (Banks, by my sums, claims to have funnelled about £15m into the group and its various moons...)
READ MORE in detail from source at openDemocracyUK here.